I recently got the question from a friend of mine: What will you do once your kids are out of the house? Will you stay in the area, move back home? Go someplace else entirely? My initial reaction was that it’s a little early to be thinking about this just yet, but after some further consideration, I wonder if she’s not on to something. If nothing else, it’s an interesting thought experiment because it forces you to really ponder what it is that makes you tick. What are the most important pieces to a fulfilled existence?

The past 20 years have been about planning life with my kids’ interests in mind: schools, friends, their activities and their opportunities have been in focus. I may still have some time before becoming an empty nester, but if the past is any indication, these next four years will go by quickly. Maybe it’s not too soon, after all, to ask: what are my pieces to a fulfilled existence?

Once all the basics are taken care of — family, health, job, home, etc. I land on friends. Having good friends is really important. As I look back on what it’s like arriving in a foreign country and starting a new life, making friends has always been the toughest part of the journey. Starting new in a place where you don’t know anyone is difficult.

I also know from experience that the feeling of loneliness is one of the hardest to overcome. Being lonely and isolated can have a negative spiral effect on your ability to get settled — it’s tougher to go out and meet new people when you are without your familiar support system. Likewise, dealing with issues that are typically easily resolved back home may all of a sudden become harder as you struggle to make sense of your new surroundings.

I remember thinking when I left for the US that I knew something about the American temperament — the stereotypical American I knew about was loud, friendly, and perhaps a bit superficial. I am not sure that I’ve ever met a stereotypical American. However, I do remember being puzzled about the extreme friendliness I encountered, say in the park for example. Mothers I had never met before would chat about most everything and when it came time to leave we would exchange phone numbers and email addresses and promise to get together soon again.

The get-togethers would rarely take place and I came to learn that the process for making friends here is different from back home. I learned to take the extreme friendliness with a grain of salt and I remembered that making real friends takes time and work.

It took me years before I had made friends I felt at home with, friends who knew me and whom I knew and shared a history with. In the interim, I had acquaintances, I had good friends in the making, and, important to note — I had many opportunities to meet with, and learn from, new people in a new culture.

By: Felicia Shermis

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